Levels of dioxin chemical that causes cancer found at unacceptably high levels at Ohio train derailment site, EPA finally admits
By JD Heyes // Mar 20, 2023

With the passage of time, we are learning even more about just how significantly dangerous the train derailment was in East Palestine, Ohio, last month.

Recent data has revealed that the soil in the Ohio town, where a catastrophic train crash and chemical spill occurred, contains dioxin levels that are hundreds of times higher than the exposure threshold set by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists in 2010. The elevated levels of dioxin are known to pose huge cancer risks, The Guardian reported last week.

At the time, the EPA suggested reducing the cleanup threshold to account for the dangers associated with the extremely toxic chemical, dioxin. However, the Obama administration eliminated the regulations, and the higher federal action threshold is still being used. While the dioxin levels detected in East Palestine fall beneath the federal action threshold, an EPA administrator stated to Congress last week that they were "very low."

Nevertheless, chemical experts, including former EPA officials, who assessed the data for The Guardian, characterized the levels as "worrisome," the outlet reported.

According to Linda Birnbaum, a former director of the US National Toxicology Program and EPA scientist, the levels detected in two soil samples are up to 14 times greater than the dioxin soil limits in certain states. Those numbers suggest that there is more extensive contamination.

“The levels are not screaming high, but we have confirmed that dioxins are in East Palestine’s soil,” she told The Guardian. “The EPA must test the soil in the area more broadly.”

Experts suggest that the data likely confirms concerns that the controlled burn of vinyl chloride in the days following the train wreck in the town created dioxin and dispersed it throughout the area. But, they caution that the new data has limited value since only two soil samples were examined.

The train crash and its hazardous consequences have become a significant problem in the United States, with local residents and activists criticizing the government and the train operator, Norfolk Southern, for their lack of action. The state of Ohio has filed a lawsuit against the rail company over the derailment, claiming it is one of many incidents involving the company.

Dioxins are a group of highly toxic chemical compounds that are produced as a byproduct of certain industrial processes, such as waste incineration, chemical manufacturing, and paper pulp production. They can also be formed through natural processes, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions.

The production of dioxins occurs when organic compounds, such as plastics and wood, are burned or heated to high temperatures in the presence of chlorine. This can occur during the combustion of waste materials, as well as in certain chemical manufacturing processes that use chlorine-based compounds. Once released into the environment, dioxins can persist for many years and can accumulate in the food chain, leading to potential health risks for humans and wildlife. Dioxin exposure has been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, and immune system dysfunction.

Efforts to reduce dioxin production and exposure have focused on improving waste management practices, reducing the use of chlorine-based compounds in manufacturing processes, and enforcing strict regulations on industrial emissions.

Despite resisting requests for several weeks to conduct dioxin testing, the EPA declared on March 3 that it would compel Norfolk Southern to do so. Additionally, Indiana commissioned testing of the soil in East Palestine last week, as one of the state's landfills is holding it. Birnbaum said a trustworthy laboratory conducted the testing.

“My main concern is: Is this reflective of the level in the area in East Palestine … and of the levels individuals who live near the rail are exposed to?” said Carsten Prasse, an organic chemist at Johns Hopkins University and scientific adviser for SimpleLab.. “I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable living there.”

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